Arguably the most popular show on TV One is their “Unsung” series which chronicles the lives of some of Hollywood’s most beloved artists that never had the chance to reach their peak of stardom.
The story of songstress Miki Howard was one of the network’s highest rated episodes leading to production of the new biopic, “Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story” premiering Sunday, June 12th at 7pm. Having overcome physical, mental and emotional abuse, as well as a drug addiction; Howard’s rise, fall and subsequent rebuilding and rebranding of her life and career is nothing short of triumphant.
The L.A. Sentinel speaks exclusively to Miki Howard, the actress who portrayed the singer, Teyonah Parris as well as Gary Dourdan, who portrayed Howard’s former boyfriend and producer Augie Johnson on the importance of bringing the story to life.
LA Sentinel: Congrats on being a producer on the film. That title can be so ambiguous, what were you responsibilities in this role?
Teyonah Parris: I worked very closely with the director, Christine Swanson and I gave input on reworking the script. I also gave input during post production and the early edit of the film. I worked collaboratively to make a movie that we’re all proud of.
LAS: Were there any scenes that were particularly challenging for you to get through?
TP: Scenes where she’s under the influence of alcohol or drugs. For [Miki] to be around and very much a part of the project, sometimes I felt uncomfortable and I didn’t want to go there, but Miki gave me permission to do it and push boundaries. A lot of times we don’t get to celebrate these artists while they’re still living. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to talk to Miki and learn from her as I went through this process.
Miki Howard: It was difficult reliving the loss of love ones from my mother to Gerald Levert and singer Phyllis Hyman. Going back to those days was most challenging. You’re talking about them all day as the script is being written but you’re never going to get the opportunity to see them again. Every time I see the movie I cry for one reason or another.
LAS: How did you go about preparing for the role of Augie Johnson? What about his life resonated with you?
Gary Dourdan: Physically and emotionally finding his voice was a big thing. I was fortunate to listen to radio interviews and watch YouTube footage of Augie expressing himself, that was massive for me playing a real life person. He came from Louisiana so he had a particular cadence, swagger and down home sensibility but also a very street attitude. He also had a beautiful timber to his voice and he was very certain about how he wanted things to sound when he worked with Miki. Augie was very decisive, he had a plan and it was important for me to embody that and express that in this character.
LAS: A major part of the film is how your relationships impacted your career. What advice would you share with other artists on discerning who should be a part of your life?
MH: You shouldn’t mix your personal and professional relationships. A person that comes into your life and wants to deal with your career should only do that, they shouldn’t sleep with you. The “Love & Hip Hop scenario” of being in a relationship with someone you’re working with seems to happen all the time but it really shouldn’t, keep those situations separate.
LAS: What did you learn from spending time with Miki on set? What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
TP: The first thing that comes to mind is resilience, the fact that no matter what Miki’s gone through, she fought through it. She falls a couple times and we watch her get back up. It wasn’t a one and done for her, unfortunately there were some lessons that she had to learn many times over before she got it but we all can relate to a part of that hard headedness. In terms of the takeaway, just because you’ve experienced adversity doesn’t mean you’re counted out, you can come out stronger. Learn from what life has given you and embrace it. Miki fights to be the woman that she wants to be and to have the peace, happiness and love. A lot of troubles she came upon had to do with an endless search to be loved which I think initially began after she was rejected by her mother, that influenced the rest of her life. We get to see how she had to fight to have a since of sanity and self-love.
GD: Her rise to fame and fall from grace is a story that people can relate to on many different levels. Her struggles growing up to become the person that she is and her resilience to move forward with a story that’s still unfolding, that’s important for people to see and resonate with. We have to give tribute to our artists and people who are sharing their voice and who get to a level where they’re making records and their gift is being serviced. Talent is something that has to be honed, cultivated and supported. A film like this shows that artists and every person that has such quality talent needs to be supported by our community. Far too often when we put artists on a pedestal, we’re quick to tear them down, criminalize and vilify them and that’s not the way, we need to pay attention to them and rally around them.
MH: I hope God comes in and gives each individual their own message from the film because there are so many important lessons. I want the audience to take away that you can overcome anything and self-love is very important. When you’re abused at home sometimes people don’t think they can talk about it, sometimes people don’t think that they can leave, I hope they can find strength from my story.